Sunday, April 1, 2018

Pandan Pepita Macarons



I'm a big fan of recipes that can be modified to accommodate dietary restrictions. I'll be the first to admit that I used to make light of it, make fun of it - but I've come to learn that there's a big difference between a food intolerance/allergy that causes hives or for your butt to hate you and some prick that "doesn't eat gluten because Jenny McCarthy says it causes cancer but let me grab a few bites of my boyfriend's pizza." I've learned that my dislike is actually of that person that wreaks havoc on the kitchen staff of the restaurant that they force their dietary restrictions on while simultaneously being a condescending jackass to their poor server versus the person that orders the thing on the menu that's easily-made gluten-free/dairy-free/nut-free and quietly says thank you. Anyway.

Macarons are perfect gluten-free snacks. They're excellent to make ahead (and are actually better if left to cure, especially in the freezer, for a few days) and are practically fat-free.The only fat you'll see in them are in the buttercream filling, but you don't even have to use buttercream - you can use jam or apple butter, just like in my Green Apple Macarons! There's one problem with the traditional macaron, however: they're made with ground nuts. Oh yes. Ground almonds are traditional, but you can also use ground hazelnuts, pistachios...I've even heard of people using walnuts or pecans. My favorite recipe in the world, though, is one I snagged from a blog I love: BraveTart.

BraveTart is a most-wonderful food blogger that's written a spectacular book called Iconic American Desserts. I love them for their scientific approach, their poignant writing style, and great photos. I will gladly say, any day of the week, that it is their recipes I use for the difficult stuff, just like nut-free macarons. In fact, find the original recipe and post right here!

The macaron is a wonderful French cookie that's essentially a whipped-then-deflated meringue cookie bound together with ground nuts(or in this case, pepitas) and baked. They are an admittedly finicky cookie to make with lots of technique and that take a lot of practice to get consistently perfect. I don't get them perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I do them well-enough, though! And I have made enough to know at least a few things... If you want to go through in more detail of an original recipe, find my basic how-tos tutorial here.

I love using East Asian flavors in Western applications. Pandan is a very popular flavor in the Philippines; it's essentially the flavor of these leaves from a plant called - I swear - "screwpine", but tastes quite a bit like young coconut. I especially love the flavor on pandan in angel food cake, and you can't beat Pandan Macarons. Pandan is a mild coconut flavor, and gives a lovely green color. You can find the extract at most Asian grocers, or through Amazon Prime.



Pandan Macarons
Cookies

  • 115 g pepitas(hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 230 g powdered sugar
  • 130 g (4 large) egg whites
  • 72 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pandan gel extract
  • 1 fat pinch kosher salt
Pandan Buttercream
  • 2/3 vegetable shortening
  • 1 tsp pandan gel extract
  • Powdered sugar A/N
  • Kosher salt to taste
Grind the pepitas to a fine powder in batches using either a food processor or a spice grinder/coffee grinder. Make sure to add in a few spoonfuls of powdered sugar, of course, to your grinder to make sure that the fat in the pepitas don't make everything cake. You can run the stuff through a sieve, but you can also use a whisk. The important thing is to get as many lumps out as possible and to get as fine a powder as possible. Meanwhile, let your egg whites come up to room temperature. 

Whip the egg whites, salt, and granulated sugar together in medium-low speed for about 2 minutes, or until quite foamy. Turn off the machine, add in a heaping spoonful of the powdered sugar, and whip on medium-high speed for another 2 minutes, or until they become shiny. Add in your extract and whip up on high for about 30 seconds so it's shiny, pale green, and still stiff without being dry. 

Fold in a heaping spoonful of the meringue mixture into the dry ingredients. I know it seems sort of counterproductive, but do your best to get all the dry ingredients mashed in to this egg white mix to make it into a sort of paste. Add in another spoonful just to lighten it and "wet" it, folding in further and further, then finally dumping all of your meringue in to your mix. You're essentially folding it until everything is well mixed and the consistency of your macaron batter is like flowing molten lava. 

Here's a tip: you're far more-likely to under-mix a macaron batter than to over-mix. If it's a stiff batter that doesn't flow, then just fold a little more, pressing the sides to ensure that you're getting all of the lumps out. Please try not to overmix it, though. It'll be overmixed when it runs thin like icing and won't hold its shaped when piped. Seriously, try not to get this far. 

Fill your piping bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe them in consistent rounds on your baking sheet. Do this on a silpat mat if you have one, but parchment paper will do as well. Please do not use wax paper - this is for making chocolate dipped strawberries or something of the like, and not for baking. 

Pipe the rounds and please - oh please - don't forget to give the bottom of the pan a very good whap on the counter. I know this sounds weird, but you'll regret it if you don't. A big troubleshoot with macarons is that they're often quite full of air, and it's this good rap from the bottom that knocks out the bigger, more uneven bubbles from your cookie. Let them sit for 20 - 30 minutes on the counter while your oven heats. This allows a skin to form, which will give you that signature shiny top that every successful macaron has. 

Heat your oven to 300 degrees F. I have an oven thermometer that tells me that my own oven runs about 25-30 degrees hot, so I only heat mine to 275. Oven temperature is crucial to successful baking, so I highly recommend that you invest in an oven thermometer of your own. You can find them at just about any grocery store for about $6.

Bake for 11 minutes and evacuate to cool completely. While that's happening, whip up your buttercream. I used vegetable shortening to make what is known as an American buttercream. It's simply your standard buttercream of fat and powdered sugar! This one is just until you feel it is stiff and sweet enough. I used the whisk attachment to first add in the salt and pandan extract and make sure that's entirely incorporated before adding in the sugar. Add it in, just a spoonful or two at a time, just until you reach the consistency you desire. The best part is that you won't even need any artificial coloring, as it'll become this lovely green! 

Fill a piping bag fitted with a tip of your choice (I chose a plain tip but a star tip is pretty, too) and gently peel away the cookies from the sheet. Take a moment to match up same-sized cookies with partners if your piping skills aren't perfect, like mine aren't. Pipe a small ring of buttercream inside and sandwich. You can now freeze these to store them, or just let them hang out on the counter, covered, for a few days to let mature. Or, you know, you could eat them outright. Up to you. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Ice Dyed Holiday Eggs

I probably used way more pink than I intended to.

Tis the season for egg-dying and I must say: it's one of my favorite springtime activities. Since we've now designated them as "holiday eggs" instead of Easter Eggs, everyone can enjoy them!

(And can I just say how beautiful it is that Easter/Ostara is on April Fool's Day this year? I mean, come on. The possibilities are endless. Chocolate-covered brussels sprouts for cake pops? Covering grapes in chocolate egg wrappers? Telling your kids that you hid the eggs outside when THERE ARE NO EGGS?!?! Come on. It's too easy.)

The cool thing about decorating eggs is that you can go crazy with things. Thanks to Pinterest and curious crafters all over the world, there are about a million different ways you can do the egg dying thing! I have a pinterest board that's just full of holiday ideas (four or five of which out of the near 100 pins I've actually tried out) that proves just this. And, hey, those are only the ones I've found.

One of the things that I've noticed about the few pins on egg dying that I've tried is that they take too long. I am, admittedly, one of the most-impatient people on the face of this planet; that being said, I wanted to try a technique that was fast-ish, and let me do other stuff while it sat all in one place. Enter the ice dyeing.

Ice dyeing is a really neat technique that you use on clothing to get neat tie-dye effects. The cool thing about ice dyeing is that you don't need to mix a bajillion different buckets worth of dye in all of your different colors; you just dump a bunch of ice all over your fabric, sprinkle the dye where you want it in whichever patterns you want it, and then go do something else. Another cool thing about dyeing with ice is that (I hear) it yields brighter colors. The design aspects get a little better with that as well, as you don't have to worry about something bleeding over. You should definitely try ice dyeing the next time you feel like giving life back into an old pair of sneakers or a tee shirt or white dress that's too stained to do anything with so you just dye it instead.



Since I didn't have any powdered food dyes (or, rather, I only had green) I used liquid food dye. After boiling my eggs for precisely 11 minutes, I evacuated them and set them in a strainer over a pot. Once my eggs were drained, I layered them between ice and dye. All I did was put down a single layer of eggs in the strainer, cover with ice, and drop in dye here and there. I repeated until all of my eggs were covered with ice and dye, and then I went off to clean the kitchen.

Since the eggs were hot, the dyeing process took a mere 10 minutes. Granted, I had a lot of ice - but the point is that it was relatively fast and it was fun to see a transformation happen right before your eyes.

I used a lot of pink and red in the lower layers, so a good portion of the eggs turned out rather pink. The marbling on the bottoms and tops were just glorious, and it's a great way to do a large-ish batch of eggs at one time. Fun! Oh, and here's a tip:

If you boil your eggs with a pinch or two of baking soda, and then shock them with ice, your eggs will peel MUCH easier than they would have otherwise. And if you feel like making it into an egg salad, press the peeled eggs through a cooling rack for a quick-and-easy chop.



Hope you all enjoyed. Happy dyeing and happy eating!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Drunken Strawberry Cobbler

The booze cooks out. Or does it...?

I know, I know - I just did a strawberry pastry recipe blog! But today's National Strawberry Day...you couldn't expect me to let it pass up, could you? I love cobblers because they can cover the same flavor profiles of pie with less-than-half of the struggle. They're the ultimate fast food when it comes to dessert! The best part is that it can be just thrown together with nigh-anything and turned into something delicious.

What makes a drunken strawberry? Soaking it in rum, of course! I have spiced rum in my cabinet (leftover from the holidays) but you can use bourbon, too, if you have it. Just make sure that your liquor of choice has a flavor of its own; otherwise, what's the point?
Yeah. All that. 

Drunken Strawberry Cobblers
yields 3 small cobblers or 1 regular cobbler

  • 1/2 quart strawberries, sliced
  • 1/3 c spiced rum
  • 1/2 c coconut sugar
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vegan gelatin 
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • For struesel topping: 1/2 cup EACH of flour, sugar, and vegan butter substitute

While you can quite easily throw this together in moments, I like to let the strawberries soak in the rum while the oven preheats to 350 degrees F. Honestly, simply toss everything together and let sit until the oven is hot, and you're fine. For the struesel topping, you can simply stir everything together with a spoon. If you want a touch of extra crunch, crush up some vanilla tea biscuits (I like Kedem's kosher pareve biscuits) quite fine and stir in. 

Simply grease your ramekins, divide evenly, add topping, and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool to gel in the fridge, if you like, or eat warm. Yum!

See how quick that was? You didn't even need to scroll. Enjoy this rapid-fire recipe - and, as always, share around and leave comments below if you try it!


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Strawberry Sweetheart Pie

You don't have to use this design, but I personally love it.
I love pie, but here's the thing: it's not easy. Oh, sure, there's the expression "it's as easy as pie," but I assure you that it is the simplest of things that are the easiest to screw up. There are about a billion tricks and 'hacks' to make pies easier, but if you need that many hacks, you need to acknowledge that it's not an easy thing. A pie is something with a decent amount of moving parts, and you need to respect that. That being said, don't let me stop you from making a pie for your sweetheart.

You can also court your loved one by putting the raspberries on your
fingertips and chase them around the house. Because, you know, why
not spice things up?
Here's a quick note about holy basil and rosewater. Roses are a sign of many goddesses of love, such as Venus or Freya. Holy basil is sacred in Hindu medicine, said to relieve anxieties and even cause prophetic dreams. Both of these also taste great, add lovely notes to your pie...but why not add a tiny touch of magic to your love life? 

Strawberry Sweetheart Pie
  • 10.5 oz AP flour (2 cups + 1 Tbsp)
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) vegetable shortening/lard
  • Vodka A/N
  • 1 pt strawberries, cleaned and sliced
  • 2/3 c honey
  • 1/2 c powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vegan gelatin
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 oz raspberries
  • 1 Tbsp rosewater
  • 1 tsp dried holy basil
First thing's first - combine the berries in a bowl and salt them. Add in the rosewater, holy basil, and sprinkle the gelatin over it, doing your best to not get any clumps. Give the berries a good stir and allow to sit, covered with plastic wrap, and macerate. Meanwhile, make your pie crust.

Here's my favorite way to do it: 

Pop your flour in the bowl of a standing mixer and pop it in the freezer - yes, flour and all - while you measure out your shortening and cut it up into small pieces. You can freeze the pieces, too, of course, but it's not 100% necessary. (You want everything cold, as cold as possible.) When cold, bring everything together using the paddle attachment of your standing mixer. No, really! Just pop in the fat and let the paddle cut it in without warming it - a standing mixer has no body heat. Once the fat is about the size of a pea, add in about a tablespoon of vodka at a time to just bring things together. Bring the dough up together in a ball and cut the ball in half. Press each half into some plastic wrap to form a disc. Pop the discs in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, or in the fridge overnight. Up to you.

When you're ready, set your oven to 350 degrees F and place your baking rack on the bottom-most rung. Gently spray a pie dish - glass or ceramic is ideal, but a metal tin will suffice. Take two sheets of parchment paper and spray liberally with pan-spray. Unwrap one of your discs and sandwich it between these sheets, lubed-side on the dough. Simply rolling out your dough like this does two things: keeps it from adding excess flour, and makes it unbelievably easy to clean up. Line your pie tin with your dough, and allow to rest in the pan while you roll out your second disc.

Juicy? Oh yeah. You need that liquid for the gelatin to activate!
Here's another trick: sprinkle about a teaspoon of equal parts cornmeal and cornstarch in the bottom of your crust before you add in your filling. This tiny little extra something contributes to your pie bottom not being soggy, and nobody likes a soggy bottom.

Now that you've gotten your filling macerated, add in your powdered sugar and honey, and stir until well-combined. It might be a little weird and grainy - that's because of the gelatin. Don't fret! Pour your filling into your untrimmed dough-lined pie tin. Fluff up the edges on the pie just to make sure that you've gotten everything completely covered.

With your second half of dough rolled out, you can cut out shapes. I chose a small round cutter, that was about an inch in diameter, and punched out holes at equal intervals. You can choose anything, even small hearts for Valentine's Day! You can now take a bit of milk or water, dip your finger in it, and line the crust to moisten. Carefully lift the dough by the parchment sheet and flip it over so all you have to do is gently peel off the top layer of paper to reveal a nice pie crust layered on top.

Now you can trim the edges! You can also re-roll out those edges to make more circles, so you can decorate your now-assembled pie. You can use an eggwash if you aren't 100% committed to this being vegan, or a simple mixture of dairy-free milk substitute and sugar to wash the top instead. It's your pie, so you do what you like.

Place the pie on a sheet tray lined with foil to catch anything that might leak over the sides, and bake at 350 on the bottom-most run of the oven(this also helps get a crisp bottom) for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until both bottom and top are a crisp brown. (This is another reason a glass pie tin is ideal.)

Evacuate the pie and let cool for at least 2 hours. I like to do half of that cooling at room temperature and then the rest in the fridge. You want two hours because strawberry has pectin that will help it gel naturally, but the gelatin you've added will give it that extra staying power, which will look quite lovely when you've sliced into it. Otherwise, everything will spill out and you'll definitely get a soggy bottom from that juicy liquid gold going out.

This pie is pleasantly tart, so serve with some nice cream or powdered sugar on top, or even some dairy-free whipped topping. If you start now, you can have it ready in plenty of time to serve to your sweetheart tonight. Or, you know, for yourself when you're living your best life, watching horror movies on Netflix. Yes, you should watch horror movies on Valentine's Day if you're celebrating it alone. Why? Because if you watch horror movies in your house, alone, you won't feel alone by the time it ends.



Happy baking and happy eating!


Friday, February 9, 2018

Chocolate Oregano Cookies



I'm all about using what you have. Living cheaply is fairly easy once you have a decent amount of things stocked up, or a decent amount of things that are always growing. I have a slight gardening addiction, and I make that rather clear by the collection of houseplants that I hoard in my living room. I somehow believe that house plants will make me healthier because it's recycling all of the CO2 that I, B, Howl, Hobbes, and Buttons all produce, as well as all of the methane, hydrogen sulfide, and amonia that we produce by our farts, and turning it into oxygen. Whether the plants do that to an amount that is truly beneficial I shall never know. It's still very relaxing, however, to have control over another living thing.

The oregano plants have just started coming back. It's winter here in the northern hemisphere, and that means that it's too cold for anything to be growing outdoors. That being said, we've had a string or two of unseasonably warm days in which I have tilled the ground and planted my winter crops, such as carrots, spinach, peas, kale, etc., and been able to spread mulch where there needs it. I'm glad that I was able to do this, of course, because right after planting we came down with a fair amount of snow, which is the poor man's fertilizer.

Inside, I have all of my starters going in planter trays, all sitting happily in front of my windows. I've got my houseplants, too, of course, but I'm very excited to see the plants that I've had in my planters outdoors (which I've brought indoors) happily bloom and grow again. The first to come back to life has been my oregano.

I love oregano. I think it is a wildly underutilized herb in the culinary world, especially when it comes to sweets. Oregano is an herb of luck and happiness, perfectly suitable as the first herb to sprout its pretty head for the new year. I love putting fruit and herbs together in pies and cakes, but what about cookies? The ultimate versatile cookie has to be chocolate chip. Here's how to make some chocolate chip cookies utilizing oregano!

Chocolate Oregano Cookies
yields 2.5 dozen


  • 2 sprigs oregano, about 10 fresh leaves
  • 6 oz vegan butter substitute (Earth Balance is my favorite)
  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 oz (by weight, if you please) good quality molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp fine coffee grounds
  • 7.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz 100% Cacao chocolate, chopped fine
Layer all of the leaves of oregano atop one another and roll into a cigar. Slice quite finely, and then add to the butter. You can melt it together and let it sit, of course, to steep, but if you're in a rush and you just need cookies right now, go ahead and cream it in until it's light and lemon-colored. Add in the sugar and molasses, and cream until quite fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the egg until absolutely emulsified in, about 1 minute, and then scrape down. Remove the bowl from the standing mixer and scrape any butter mixture off the beater with the spatula. 

Dump all of the ingredients in, all at once, and stir with a spatula until well-enough combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill while the oven heats to 325 degrees, which should take about 15 minutes. If you can find room in the freezer, even better.

You can also dollop these on to sheet trays and freeze them a few batches at a time. 
Drop dollops of the cookie dough on to a prepared baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or a silpat mat and bake for 10-12 minutes. If you have a small 1 oz disher, that's ideal. Let the cookies hang out on the sheets for at least 15 minutes before picking them up so they can set. Molasses is an invert sugar, so it's what makes cookies very chewy. In fact, if you're a big fan of chewy cookies, all you have to do to make it super chewy is substitute liquid sugars for granulated/solid ones in some part. I encourage experimentation in all fronts!


If you'd like to make this to be an extra sexy Valentine treat, melt some good quality chocolate gently over a double boiler to about body temperature and dip the bottoms of the cookies in, just to coat. Let them harden on parchment paper. You can do that with just about any cookie that you'd like to dress up. You can even straight-up dip half of the cookie and cover it with sprinkles if you're feeling extra festive. Up to you!

Happy cooking and happy eating!


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Date & Raisin Babka

Finally, an instagrammable dessert/breakfast that is simple and doesn't require a mirror glaze.
Okay, okay - I'll be the first to admit that 50 shades of dark brown doesn't necessarily sound appealing. I personally loathe the entire '50 Shades' franchise - it's a horrible caricature of what BDSM is actually supposed to be all wrapped up in a Twilight fanfiction. No, that's literally how it started. Look it up. Die mad about it.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right.

So, I'm a newcomer to babka. My sister Ashley actually gave me the cutest little book called Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen by Miri Rotkovitz. This was a very sweet reference to the fact that I had recently discovered my Jewish heritage via an ancestry.com test. Of course, I loved the book immediately and thanked her. My dive in to Ashkenazi food has been kind of a blind one, and I'm all about good references from reputable sources.

Babka is, in essence, an enriched yeast dough that's filled with chopped dried fruits and nuts, rolled, artfully sliced, then baked in a loaf. There are about a million different swirls you can try with this as a base, and the Great British Bake-Off has covered a good amount of them. A povitica, in fact, is a version of a babka. We won't be getting into that, though, as it's far too complicated for me. We're sticking to the simple stuff, just to get you started.

Of course, I used the recipe as a guide for many babkas, but this one with dates and raisins was my favorite, and not just because it was my first one! I tried one with pistachios, with chocolate...this one was the best. Here's how I did it!

Date & Raisin Babka
adapted from Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen


  • 1/2 c soy or coconut milk
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 c liquid levain/sourdough starter***
  • 1 c white flour
  • 1 c rye flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 Tbsp coconut oil/vegan butter substitute
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c dried, pitted dates, chopped
  • 1/2 c raisins
  • 1/4 c toasted pepitas, chopped
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp vegan butter substitute/coconut oil, melted
Note*** If you're not using a liquid levain/sourdough starter, you'll want to up your liquid to 1 cup of soy/coconut milk instead of the half cup. You may also want to add an extra pinch of yeast, just to get everything started.

Gently heat the 'milk' in the microwave or on the stove until just a little warmer than body temperature, add a heaping tablespoon of your measured sugar, and stir in the yeast. Leave in a warm place to froth, about 5 minutes.

Add your flours and salt together, and mix with the dough hook attachment on your standing mixer just to combine. Add in your liquid levain, if using, and stir for about 10 seconds, just to incorporate it. Add in your activated yeast liquid and turn on. Once your liquid is just combined, add in the egg. Allow to knead for about 5 minutes on medium-low speed. Add in your fat, which should be just a little cool to touch, about a spoonful at a time. I borrowed this idea from mixing in fat to a brioche. This, of course, is not a brioche, but the principle should still be basically the same. 

Once the fat is all incorporated, you should check your dough for the windowpane test. That just means that you take a tiny portion of your dough, roll it in a ball, and stretch it quite thin, that you should be able to see light through it. This tests that the glutens have developed. Once it has, remove your dough from the bowl and place it in another bowl that's been gently lubricated with oil and covered with plastic, and left to set in a warm place to rise, about an hour. This is the fermentation process, and your dough should double in size. This gives you plenty of time to clean up and do the filling!

Your dried fruit should be chopped rather finely. If you own a food processor, feel free to use it now to make a rather chunky paste combining all of the ingredients. I do not own a food processor, so I used a mortar and pestle to combine the fruit and nuts in a sort of homogeneous paste before adding the melted 'butter,' sugar and spices. 
This is a babka I made using raisins and chopped apricots; I chose this photo for you because the colors show up
a little more brightly, so therefore it's easier to see!

Once your dough has doubled in size, generously flour a marble slab (or your countertop if you're not a bougie jackass like me) and roll out your dough until it's about half an inch thick. Spread the filling mixture as evenly as you can over the surface, leaving about an inch for rolling room on opposite sides to get stuff to get started and to stick. Roll your dough up, nice and tight, into a nice long snake, and roll it gently out, just to seal the edges and to make it even. 

Next, break out the pan you intend to use and then use it to measure your dough and the places you want to cut it. Here's a tip, though: it's easier to roll out the log to make it thinner and longer than it is to squish it up to make it shorter and fatter. For example, if the log is a little too long for you to simply cut the roll in half and then twist those halves together, it would be simpler to roll out the dough into a longer log and then cut the dough in thirds or even fourths to get the desired effect. This  particular one was easy to make into halves, so I simply cut the log in half and twisted it together, sort of like one might make a candy cane. You can, of course, find video tutorials on how to make a babka, if you're not quite visualizing it with ease with the way I'm explaining it.

Apologies for the potato quality. I was shaky.

Once it's set up, all nice and snug, in its loaf pan, cover it and leave it to proof for another 45 minutes in a nice warm place. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. After it's baked, let it cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before turning it out - this will allow it to be set enough to have it fall straight out of the pan without falling apart. 

You can let it cool to room temperature, of course, before serving, but I just love a nice warm babka. You can have it by the slice, smear it with cream cheese and berries, or make it into french toast. Seriously! It makes amazing french toast! And don't be afraid to experiment - dates, pistachios, raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, dried cherries...whatever! The only limit is your imagination!

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Three-Alarm Texas-Style Chili


Here's a disclaimer: I am not an authority on Texas-style chili, or any kind of chili, for that matter. The only way in which I might be considered an authority on chili is because I'm from the Southwest and we eat a lot of it there. In Arizona, we have chili as a staple meal in just about every household. The great American chili debate can be summed up with beans vs no beans. It's a highly regional dish that's taken over our country, and I am all for the Arizona-style chili with the beans.

I like pinto beans in my chili, mostly because that's what I've grown up with, but I've seen it done with white beans, kidney beans, and black beans. We do ground beef as our main protein instead of large chunks of chuck. We also tend to do our chili on the spicy, tangy side instead of the sweet-hot side that I've noticed in most Texas-style chilis. (Seriously, though, if someone who has actual knowledge in this endeavor wants to fill me in in the comments section, please do so.) Here's the thing, though... B likes Texas-style chili, and he has certain G.I. issues that keep him from eating certain things, and *gasp* beans are one of them.

RIP me. My funeral will be held this Thursday at 6 pm.
So, of course, when B announced that there was a chili cook-off at his work, I was intrigued. Since he can't do beans, he was going to make a Texas-style chili. When I realized that this meant he was going to be cooking in my kitchen without me in the house while I was gone to have dinner with a friend, I told him to just buy the ingredients for me and that I'd make it myself. He told me that I didn't have to, of course, but I was insistent. Nobody cooks in my kitchen; it's my sacred space.

Three-Alarm Texas-Style Chili
yields enough for 6 people, or, like, 4 really hungry people
  • 1 lb beef chuck, 1/2" cubes
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 1 white onion
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 5 cayenetta chili peppers, dried
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp dark chili powder
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1 small can smoked adobo chilies
  • Scallions & cheddar cheese to serve

Chop the bell peppers and onions into a 1/2" dice and set aside. Grind the garlic, cayenetta peppers, the oregano, and a pinch each of salt and pepper together with mortar and pestle. If you don't have one, chop up the garlic quite fine, pop it into a bowl and mash it together with the other ingredients with the back of a wooden spoon. You can also use a spice grinder to combine this, or a coffee grinder - so long as it creates a sort of chunky paste. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Turn your flame on to high, and grab your favorite dutch oven, or thick-bottomed stew kettle. Chop the bacon into 1/2" chunks and cook. Reduce the flame to a medium heat, and cook until crisp and brown. Drain off the fat and reserve about 2 Tbsp of it. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Add in the beef carefully to not splash hot bacon fat everywhere.

Let the meat brown and add in your dry spices. Do not inhale the smoke unless you feel like hacking your face off. Once everything is sort of mixed in together, add the chili-garlic paste you made earlier, the chopped vegetables, and the adobo chilies. Stir well and allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Add in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. 

Once your chili is boiling, turn off the heat, give it a good stir, correct the seasoning, and then put a lid on your pot. Pop your pot in the oven and let bake for about an hour and a half. You're simulating a super-hot campfire while trapping all of that tasty steam on the inside, which will make your beef crazy tender.

After your 90 minutes is up, turn off your oven and evacuate your pot. Open the lid, give it all a good stir, and pop the lid back on for another 10 minutes before serving. You can also let cool completely and serve it the next day(chili always tastes better the next day), but who wants to do that, really? Do yourself a favor, though, and have either water or milk nearby. It's decently hot.

Thanks so much - this blog was my actual first request in a long time. Thank VanessaBiglerArt for that! Happy cooking and happy eating!


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cushaw Pumpkin Soup

I don't even need a filter for this gorgeous-ness
I am not vegan. I just happened to make a lot of vegan recipes because we're quite strictly dairy-free in this house. I feel like I should say that before we go any further, just so no poor, unsuspecting vegan follows my blog or twitter or instagram and then gets freaked out when they see a whole brisket on my feed.

Last summer, I grew my new favorite pumpkin, the noble and wondrous Cushaw pumpkin, to whom all other pumpkins should bow. I mean, come on.



Look at this magnificent thing. Look at the size, the lovely shape. Look at this gorgeous color.

So I had a ton of plans this weekend (some of which I didn't actually get to do) and one of them was to clear out at least a good portion of the #garden. Out of it came this monster. It is by far the biggest pumpkin I have ever grown and I'm kind of dumbstruck at it. It's called the #crookneck #pumpkin, or a #Cushaw pumpkin, and it is excellent for #pie, #soup, and pretty much every other classic pumpkin application you might think of. It's definitely one of the lesser-known varieties, but I don't know why. It's extremely prolific as a plant, and the #fruit itself is really cool-looking. Imagine that I would have had a lot more had the weather not been so weird, and I had not been battling squash beetles the entire season. I managed to get rid of a good portion of them today, so that was good. Anyway. Phew. #homestead #midwestlife #wannabgourmande #cheflife #foodiechats #foodblogger #KansasCity #localvore #gardening #heirloom #bakerseeds
A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on


And just look at the color of the flesh! Let's not forget about the flavor, which is - by the way - out of this world. It's so mild and gentle, like an autumn breeze. If Pumpkin Spice, the flavor, was a person who got up in your face and made you take selfies with them, dragged you out to pumpkin patches and feed you apple cider and made you hold their phone and take a million photos of them playing in the leaves for their Insta, then Cushaw is your actual chill friend that wears flannel because it's warm and plays the guitar for fun, and loves nothing more than to curl up alone at home with a good book while they watch the leaves fall from inside. Pumpkin Spice has her place, but she's so in your face sometimes. Cushaw just wants to have a good time. Pumpkin Spice is Gryffindor, while Cushaw is Hufflepuff. See the difference?



As you can see, I processed it so I could save it. It was too big to use my oven at home, so I used the oven at a wonderful commercial kitchen I know. I roasted it with oil and just a touch of salt at 325 for about an hour and change, until it was fork-tender, almost spreadable, like butter. Once cooled, this made it rather easy to scrape the flesh out of the skin and puree it in a food processor.

Yum.
Cushaw pumpkin's flavor is deliciously mild, and has a fresh and sort of tangy note, almost reminiscent of cheese. It doesn't smell fermented, of course, or especially sweet, but when pureed, it tastes of the most-amazing pumpkin cream cheese you could ever imagine, all smooth and luxurious, like a warm cashmere sweater or socks fresh from the dryer. It honestly tastes to me how velvet feels. That's how much I love cushaw pumpkins, and I didn't even know it.

When the pumpkins were growing in my garden, they were taking over, and growing bigger and bigger every day. I wasn't sure exactly what they were, especially because I hadn't ever seen a pumpkin that size or shape or color before, and was concerned about it. Nearing the end of that summer, I went to a local farmer's market and inquired about it. I showed a picture of the pumpkin to the woman running the squash stall and she sort of laughed.

"Yeah, that's a cushaw," she said. "The farmer's best kept secret."

"'Best kept secret?'" I said, feeling a bit like I'd struck some kind of lottery. I had gotten the Cushaw seeds at a seed exchange that hosts locally, but by the time I had planted them I'd already forgotten what kind they were, only that they were recognisable as pumpkin plants. "I take it they're tasty, then."

Mine was actually quite small as cushaws go, and I'm just a
home gardener! 
"Tasty and prolific," she said. She then went on to explain that the cushaw, in her opinion, had a much better flavor than your typical pie pumpkin did, and was a gem because it was so incredibly versatile. The flavor was sweet and mild, she said, but was gentle enough to be used in both sweet and savory applications. She liked them best because they were extremely prolific, and that it was a shame that nobody sold them. When I asked why, she said simply: "nobody knows."

We ended up talking for a long while about the cushaw pumpkin, and other pumpkins, for that matter, and what would fetch a good price at the market. People do want unusual pumpkins, but seldom for eating and more for decoration. She said that in recent years it'd gone up to 50/50 for decor vs. eating, and that the cushaws weren't a high-dollar pumpkin. Something funny-looking like an Australian Blue would fetch a minimum of $7 at a grocery store, and more at the local farmer's market. The cushaws go won't sell nearly as much, because they're not as visually interesting, and frankly don't look like the American idea of a pumpkin anyway. They often get too big for the regular oven, too, so most don't buy it because they don't want to spend the afternoon processing it.


I asked her how to preserve it best, and she said that I could just let it be. It'll get sweeter as it sits in the pantry anyhow, as the sugars will develop during the steady warmth of your house and produce a much better flavor. It is, she said, better to let a squash sort of 'cure' in the home for a month or two to really ripen up. She even told me that she's harvested cushaws in the fall and kept some until January or February and it was completely fine. That being said, she recommended freezing it, as canning could result in the stuff souring, and there's always the risk of botulism with canning when not done in a professional facility. Simply roasting and pureeing the stuff and saving it in the freezer simply was best. When I asked what she used them for, she simply shrugged and said "anything."

Anything? I thought. Pumpkin butters? Yes. Pies? Yes. Pasta and soup? Yes and yes. This variety is hardy, prolific, and versatile, and that's what made it the best-kept-secret of the Midwestern farmer. I personally think this squash is highly underrated and that we, as a society, need to recognize its superior quality among others. I am having a moment with Cushaw, and I think you should, as well. You can buy the seeds for them right here.

The thing about pumpkin is that it's rather fibrous, and while that's great for a lot of things, it's not 100% the best thing when using it for the kind of applications I'd be using it for, especially in its most raw form, and especially saving it. I passed the pumpkin through a tamis strainer(pronounced like "Tammy"), which looks quite a bit like a tambourine with a very fine wire screen over the drum bit in lieu of goat skin. The tamis is a wonderful tool that a lot of chefs adore, as it's the key to creating fine purees and silky smooth sauces. A chinoix is nice, sure, but you can't pass things through with good pressure like you can with a tamis.

Want a nice and smooth aioli? Tamis. Looking for a silky smooth avocado puree for a splash of color on your toast, perfect for instagram? Tamis. Itching for the smoothest and creamiest mashed potatoes you've ever had in your life? Tamis. I bought mine at the Sur la Table on the Plaza, but you can get yours on Amazon.

Passing the pumpkin puree through the tamis not only smooths it out like crazy, but you catch all of the bits of skin and whatnot that you may not have noticed before. It's an excellent tool and essential, especially, if you're going to be pureeing fruits and vegetables for applications such as baby food. Yes, you can make your own baby food; in fact, people have been doing it for centuries, likely at a much lower cost than buying at the grocery store, and with significant less waste in those glass jars and plastic containers.

I took the puree and froze it in quart-sized freezer Ziploc bags. Out of that one squash, I got about fourteen bags of puree for my freezer, all pretty and orange-yellow, so deliciously tasty. A quart is equivalent to roughly two cans of pumpkin puree, so there you go - ready for making twice as many pies as you normally might make. It really is a winning situation all around; I highly recommend that you make your own pumpkin puree for pies, cakes, muffins, etc. You won't regret it.

On to the soup.

Vegan Cushaw Soup
yields about 3 quarts

  • 1 quart Cushaw puree
  • 1/2 white onion, cut in chunks
  • 3 orange carrots, peeled and cut in coins
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 small cayennetta pepper, crushed(or 1/2 tsp cayenne powder)
  • 2 Tbsp vegan butter substitute(we all know I love Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup almond-coconut milk blend(or soy, if you prefer)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp white miso
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Heat the "butter" in a soup pot to melt, then add the onion, carrot, and garlic along with the crushed dried pepper. I had some dried peppers from my garden, but you can use a pinch of cayenne instead. Sweat it on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper, give it a good stir, and then add the water, milk, and miso paste. Bring to a boil and reduce it to a simmer, then allow to cook for about 15 more minutes, or until the vegetables are quite soft. 

Add in your pumpkin puree. If you're working with fresh, awesome. If you're working with frozen, thaw just a little by sticking your bag under running water, just enough to soften it, which shouldn't take long. If you pop the stuff into the pot while it's par-frozen, it's not the end of the world. The trick is, however, to let it cook quite gently so as not to destroy the mild flavor of the pumpkin and scorch it. 

Once everything is quite smooth and soft, pour your soup mix into the pitcher of a blender and blend for 30 seconds to a full minute, ensuring everything is velvety smooth. Return your pureed soup to the pan, correct the seasoning, and bring up to heat once again, only to about 190 degrees F, stirring constantly to ensure that your soup won't scorch. It's also important to check the consistency of the soup, and if it's a bit too thick to simply add another splash of whichever milk substitute you've been using and gently bring up to heat again.

Serve immediately and garnish with either parsley or some vegan parmesan cheese(I like Follow Your Heart's brand of parmesan). This is also a perfect soup to dip a grilled cheese in. Save whatever leftovers you have in either the fridge or freezer. Oh yes. You can freeze soup in tupperware containers, pop them in the microwave, and BAM instant dinner. See? Meal prepping can be easy. Your freezer is your best friend.

Thanks for reading. Happy cooking and happy eating!


Monday, January 8, 2018

Rustic Country Loaf

If you're a big researcher, like me, check out what Reddit has to say about making bread!
I believe that a simple bread recipe should be in the arsenal of every cook in America, be they home cook, broke student, or professional chef. There's, of course, an art and deep and wonderful science to bread, but this isn't the blog for that.

Bread, in essence, is air. It's far more air than bread; we're eating air that you can make a sandwich out of. A CT scan of bread will show you that it's mostly the skeleton of a gas that's been released during the cooking process, with starches and proteins freezing (or baking) in time with the transformative nature of heat to help it along. It's thanks to bread that we have civilization, and that's not even a hyperbole. Because of fermentation, we found a way to make more food out of less ingredients, and that truly is a magical thing. Here's how to make some magic in your own kitchen.

Simple Country Loaf
yields two small loaves or one big loaf
Adapted from Mother Earth News's Country Loaf recipe
  • 2 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp sugar(honey works, too)
  • 3 Tbsp fat**(we'll get into details down in the recipe)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 c water, body temperature
  • 1 cup liquid levain**

Turn on your oven to 250. Mix your flours, salt, and liquid levain in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook attachment, or just a large bowl if mixing by hand. If using a liquid levain, it is best if it's at least at room temperature before starting. Hmm? Oh, what's a liquid levain? Haha, sorry...

A liquid levain (or poolish, if you prefer) is essentially a sourdough starter. You can start it by mixing equal parts of flour and water and letting hang out for a few days to ferment on its own, or you can start it with a pinch of yeast and sugar, if you're a little desperate. That being said, it should be at least two days old before starting with it. After all, what's a sourdough starter if not a little funky, and funk comes with maturity. A levain should be fed every day with a little bit of water and flour, stirred, and allowed to rest; you can also keep them cool, in the fridge, to let them sleep. They say you can only keep them for a month before they go too dormant, but I've honestly let mine hang out for 2 months in the fridge before and it still comes back to life every time I bring it up to room temperature. Who knows? Since the fermentation comes from wild yeasts, perhaps I caught the kind that's super-resistant to cold? I am, after all, in the midwest. Anyway. A levain is the key to a good, complex bread, and if you're serious about baking breads and other yeasty stuffs, seriously consider starting your own liquid levain. 

And, yes, you too can use your liquid levain/sourdough starter to make delicious misshapen cinnamon rolls!
Once your dry (and not-so-dry) ingredients are hanging out in the bowl, whisk together the yeast with the sugar and water to dissolve. Let it sit near your oven, but not on the stovetop of your oven, just to let it warm up. When I say that the water should be body temperature, I mean that you should stick your fingers in the water and it should feel rather comfortable, maybe just a hair warmer than your body is. I like the cooler temperature for yeasts to ensure it won't be killed, and you'll also get a nicer flavor from a slower rise. You'll also be letting it be in a rather warm place, anyhow, so it'll bubble up nicely anyway, which usually takes five minutes.

While we're waiting, let's talk about fat and its role in bread. It's, in essence, a dough conditioner that will keep it soft and add some flavor. You can use an infused olive oil or coconut oil, but I prefer saturated fats in breads. Why? Because a saturated fat stays solid at room temperature(such as shortening, lard, coconut oil or butter) it has, by nature, a more solid molecular structure, and it ends up improving the end texture of the product, whereas an unsaturated fat(such as a plant oil, like olive oil) would be more for flavor than texture, and they may go drier quicker. And yes, yes, some fats are bad for you - but let's be honest, you need some fat in your diet so your body can process your vitamins. It's just a fact that certain vitamins are only fat-soluble. Besides, we shouldn't fat-shame bread anyway. You wouldn't do it to your friends, so you oughtn't do it to your bread, who is doing their best, by the way. 

When your yeast is bubbly and alive, stir the mixture into the flour using either a wooden spoon or your machine. Begin to knead with the machine or your hands, but for heaven's sake, knead in the bowl by pressing and pulling the dough. Seriously, you can do this, and it'll keep your counter all that much cleaner. About halfway through(2 or 3 minutes in) add in your chosen fat. I chose rendered drippings for my fat, mostly because it's what I had on hand, and also because it's such a great thing to have dripping. Oh, dripping is fat that's leftover from cooking bacon, or perhaps roasting a pork belly in your oven, or even roasting chicken skin for craquelins, all saved in a nice jar either in the fridge or in the pantry. It's a very flavorsome alternative to butter(which can be expensive) and honestly a rather common practice to have on hand anyway. Remember the can of fat that your grandmother had on the counter? Or the coffee cup full of bacon grease your dad kept in the door of the fridge? That's dripping - and you can use it to make bread. 

Once your five minutes are up, transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and let sit for 2 hours. It's at this stage you can clean up, go see a friend for lunch or go to the grocery store, and then come back. No, you shouldn't leave the oven on while you're out of the house, so please do turn it off if you're doing that, but leave the dough on the stove so it'll stay warm.

Oddly, you can pick these up at home improvement warehouses- many of them will sell you
the mis-cuts for a discounted rate, if they have them.
Now that you're back home, turn your oven to 450(not kidding) and put an empty metal pie tin in the bottom of the oven. Shape the loaves as you so desire, but I like the long and simple country loaf shapes for this particular application. I did two different shapes, mostly because I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for. Shape them on a well-dusted counter (or marble slab if you're a privileged jerk like me) of flour and cornmeal to either logs or boules(round loaves) and put on a sheet tray lined with parchment (or a silpat mat, if you have it) and cover with the clean tea towel once again. Let proof on your stovetop in that nice warm space for 45 minutes. 

Time for a nap, loves!
Open up your oven and put your bread onto the middle rack of your oven, and dump 3 or 4 cups of ice into the pie tin in the bottom rack of the oven. This will create steam and give you that wonderfully rustic crust that we associate with baker's bread. Shut that oven door and let cook for 30 - 35 minutes, or until deliciously dark and brown and temps out at 200 degrees. (Yes, bread has a temperature it should be at.)

Evacuate from the oven and immediately pick them up and put them on a cooling rack. This is because you don't want steam to be trapped on the bottom of your bread as it cools, so it's a good idea to let some airflow happen underneath your loaf as it cools. It's likely a safe assumption that you don't like having a soggy bottom, so it's an even safer assumption that your bread won't either - be considerate to your bread. 

I hope this has inspired you. Please don't hesitate to comment on my blog or my instagram on what you'd like to see next. Happy cooking and happy eating!

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Cranberry Nicecream



Last year, we spent the New Year by playing Pathfinder in my friend's basement. This year(or, I guess, last year) we did it at our home and I ran my first-ever campaign! It was just a one-shot, but I got the chance to do some real writing and explore a world I'd been building for the better part of 10 years. It's a wild world full of fun characters.



Anywho, I couldn't host a party without some party foods. I made a dairy-free 'parmesan' dip with crackers, some lovely cassoulet noir(made with black beans instead of white beans), and a delicious homage to a Baked Alaska using my cranberry nicecream. Wait, what is nicecream? Vegan ice cream, of course! Here's how it's done...

Cranberry Nicecream

  • 1 cup vegan coconut milk-based plain yogurt (SO Delicious is my favorite brand)
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp good vanilla extract/vanilla paste
  • 2 tsp vegan gelatin(I love Druid's Grove, certified Kosher/Vegan, excellent 1:1 substitute for animal-based gelatin)

Put your cranberries and yogurt in the pitcher of your blender. I love using fresh cranberries, especially for my Ilvermorny Cranberry Pie, so it's an ingredient that I tend to have around the house during the winter months. You can, of course, use frozen cranberries - but don't thaw them! Put them frozen into the blender; that way, it'll cool faster!

In a medium saucepot, bloom the gelatin in the water for 3 minutes, then pour the sugar on top. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. This will, of course, dissolve the gelatin, but also dissolve the sugar, which is important. 

Pour the hot sugar syrup over the berries into the pitcher of the blender, and blend until completely smooth, about 30 seconds on High in my Vitamix, about 1 minute and 30 seconds for a standard blender, just so long as all of the skin is essentially broken up and pureed.


Process in your ice cream maker according to the factory instructions. Freeze to set in a container. Enjoy with whipped cream and meringue biscuits. Or just by itself! Happy cooking and happy eating!